Friday, November 7, 2014

Coach Carleton: First Night of Practice

Well, I didn't finish the Universal Class on How to Coach Youth Basketball before it was time to head to our first practice last night. You didn't really think I would, did you? We had fun anyway. And that's the goal.

It was my first time coaching, ever. Our eight-year-old, Katie, wanted to join a team. Soon after we signed her up, the league sent me an email asking if I could coach. Assuming other parents with more experience would volunteer, I said, Sure, sure. Sign me up. I've never coached. I haven't played basketball in thirty years. I probably haven't even watched a basketball game in at least a decade. But sure, if no one else can do it, sign me up.

Nube mistake number one. Never say yes when you really mean are you fucking kidding me?

Fortunately for me, when I'm on my meds and keeping my symptoms of PTSD at bay, I'm quite adventurous. I'll try anything (that will cause no harm to anyone) once. What harm could I do to these eleven third-grade girls? I figure the worst that can happen with me as a coach is we won't learn the rules, but no matter what, we'll have fun.

When we arrived at the gym there were already several girls running around shooting hoops. An incorrigible procrastinator and usually late to everything, I had thought arriving ten minutes early was good, but evidently my team leans uber-punctual. When the other couple of girls arrived, we sat in a circle in the middle of the gym and talked.

"When are we going to start practicing?" one of the girls whined.

"We are practicing. This is the first part of building a team," I explained. She didn't roll her eyes at me, so I marked that one a win.

"I want us to get to know each other so we can be a great team. I'm gonna ask you some questions about yourself, and we'll go around the circle and answer. I'll start," I said.

I told them that it was my first time coaching, but I was excited, and that I had played basketball on a couple of teams when I was a girl, so I know what it's like. I told them that I'm Katie's mom and Will's wife, that I work at the library and I like working with kids.

"And the one thing I want to get out of this experience is to have fun," I said, smiling. Surprisingly, they all smiled back. Beamed really. I'm lucky I got assigned to coach third graders rather than eighth graders. Too much teenage angst might trigger my anxiety.

We went around the circle and each girl gave their answers. Their name, what school they go to, have they played on a team before, and if so, how many years? That sort of stuff. The answers got more exciting after I asked them the two BIG questions:

The first big question was: "What do you want to get out of this experience, by the end of the season?"

I wanna have fun!
I wanna see how many goals I can shoot!
I wanna see how fast I can run across the court!
I wanna do my best and have fun!
I wanna make friends!
I wanna shoot more hoops!
I wanna do my best and have fun! (The copycat is my kid.)
I wanna have fun! (It was clear the girls were running out of ideas until...)
I wanna make friends and learn how to SLAM DUNK!

We all giggled at that last one.

"Well, that's a lofty goal," I said.

"What's lofty?" Slam Dunk Girl said.

"It's a big goal, something that will take you years of practice to achieve," I explained.

Slam Dunk Girl's shoulders sank.

"But it will be fun to watch you practice! It probably won't be this year, but I'd love to see you slam dunk some day!"

Slam Dunk Girl sat up straight and proud, smiling wide.

The second big question was: "What kind of coach would you like me to be?"

Nice, but make us work hard!
Nice and encouraging!
Honest, reliable, smart! (Guess which weirdo kid said that? Yep. Katie.)
Nice, and you can help us learn more!

I have a feeling that interviewing these girls about what they want to get out of being on a basketball team, and what kind of coach they want me to be, will be just as important as studying the rules of the game.

Still, though, I need to figure out the basics. It's two points per shot, right? What I remember most from playing basketball on a team when I was a kid was the fun, not the rules. Hopefully the girls and I will learn just enough of the rules that we'll feel comfortable and have fun.

After our mini group therapy session in the middle of the court, Will and I had the girls do dribbling drills where they weave in and out of the cones, shooting drills from both the left and the right, and passing drills.

Probably the harshest thing I said to one of the girls all night was, "Remember, you're passing the ball to your teammate. You want her to be able to catch it so she can score a point for the team. Yeah, it's cool that you can bounce the ball over her head, but that's not gonna help the team win."

No crying. No yelling. No one yelling "hustle!" No one pointing at me and laughing. It was about as chill a practice as I could imagine.

When we were picking up our coats to leave, I asked Katie if she'd give my first day of coaching a thumbs up or not. She said, "A quadruple thumbs up!"

That was awesome, but my kid's partial to me. The best compliment I got was as we were leaving the gym, one of the girls said to me, "You're a really nice coach!" My heart exploded with joy.

One more practice and then we'll have our first game. I'm excited.